UK appeals ruling against building Holocaust memorial near Parliament

A High Court judge had denied planning permission due to its proposed location contravening a century-old law.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

The British government on Friday appealed a High Court decision to prevent the building of a national Holocaust memorial in a park in central London.

“We remain completely committed to constructing the Memorial at this location, which was carefully selected to reflect its national significance – next to Parliament and close to other important memorials including the Cenotaph,” said a spokesperson for the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Department.

The appeal is the latest step in a seven-year battle to construct the £100 million memorial. The design that won an international contest envisions 23 tall, long bronze fins standing close to each other in Victoria Tower Gardens, representing the number of countries in which Jews, Roma, the disabled and gay people were persecuted by the Nazis during World War II.

Each narrow pathway between the fins would lead to the entrance of an underground, high-tech learning center containing survivor testimonies that would also teach about the dangers of antisemitism as well as the causes of later mass murders such as those committed in Cambodia and Rwanda.

The High Court ruled last month in favor of several groups that had argued that a law enacted in the year 1900 forbade using the site for anything other than a public garden. There was an “enduring obligation” to use the land for the purpose for which it had been donated, Justice Thornton wrote.

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Barbara Weiss, a co-founder of one of the groups, “Save Victoria Tower Gardens,” said in response to the ruling, “We have argued for many years that the government is pursuing the right idea in the wrong place. Today’s judgment sends a strong message about the protection of public parks.”

While more than 170 members of both houses of Parliament support the project, including Conservatives and the head of the opposition Labour party, the Jewish community itself is divided over the planned memorial.

The umbrella group representing the Jewish community to the government, the Jewish Board of Deputies, is in favor of the current location, as is Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis.

Considering the “hateful rhetoric on the rise across the world,” he said, “it is more urgent and vital than ever” to teach what he called “the essential lessons of the Holocaust.”

The potential educational effect of having the memorial “next to the seat of our country’s democracy” should overrule the planning objections that had been raised, he added.

At least eight Jewish peers have publicly stated their opposition, however, as did Rabbi Dr. Jonathan Romain, leader of the Reform Maidenhead Synagogue near London.

“We know from the resurgence of antisemitism in countries abroad with powerful Holocaust museums that buildings do not change minds,” he said. “It will be far better for the UK to use the £100 million to have an education program in schools nationally than a London-centric memorial.”

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A memorial to victims of the Holocaust already exists in the country’s capital and is the site of a yearly commemorative ceremony. Built in 1983 in Hyde Park and surrounded by a copse of silver birch trees, it consists of two boulders lying on a gravel bed.

They are inscribed with a quote from the Book of Lamentations in both English and Hebrew: “For these I weep. Streams of tears flow from my eyes because of the destruction of my people.”